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You’ve decided to set up shop as a high school senior portrait photographer. And you think you have a chance of becoming pretty good at it. You love photographing, and you’ve photographed a variety of friends and family in the past. So you put together your business marketing tool set and start on your way.
Then you start looking at the marketplace. Dozens of photographers are in your area, marketing themselves as senior portrait photographers. The local high school’s latest newspaper has 15 ads for photographers in the 10 small pages of news.
Ugh. Do you really stand a chance?
How do you fight all of this competition?
You may be making one fatal mistake if this sounds like you. You may be thinking of other photographers as competition.
Why Photographers Aren’t Your Competition
Let me tell you a story of a group of wedding photographers.
A number of years ago, we ran into a nice couple at a local wedding expo. We had booths next to one another, and we chatted throughout the daylong event. We even agreed to have dinner together after the expo, and spent another few hours talking. We hit it off immediately, and decided these “dinner talks” were something we wanted to do again and again.
We decided to meet a couple of weeks later, and had another friend in the business we asked along. So the three of us had dinner, boosted up our concepts for our businesses over a few hours of chatting, and agreed to meet again the next month for another round of business, wine and friends.
We brought along another friend. And another. And another. At one point we ended up with 10 photographers in our group, and would each take turns hosting the meeting at one of our studios. Some times we’d have a friendly photo shoot, where we could learn from each other. Other times we’d talk business, discussing issues that needed improving. And some times it was just about friendship.
These photographers weren’t competition; they were friends. We didn’t fear them in the marketplace; in fact we referred them over and over again. If our day was filled up (you can’t photograph more than one wedding per day anyway), we would pull out our calendars to find out which of our friends still had the day open. Yep, we kept a full calendar so we would know which of us still had the days open. Then if a prospect called in and asked for a date we were filled up, we could pull out our calendar, talk up our photographer friend for several minutes at a time, and have the prospect call them and be super excited before they ever even met or knew anything about them.
It wasn’t competition; it was collaboration.
We could sell each other because we were all fully confident about each others abilities, and would educate a calling prospect about the do’s and don’ts of wedding photography.
This is why collaboration works. And it works VERY well.
Does It Have To Be With Photographers?
Nope. Collaboration can be used in a variety of ways. Back to the wedding concept. I’m sure you’ve worked with some vendors you love, and some you hate. I remember working with one videographer that was the absolute worst in the industry. Every time we would set up a formal image, he would run in and blast his video light right in our brides and grooms faces. They would squint and have horrible expressions. He would constantly say “look here”. He would even walk right in front of our cameras – on a tripod – and stand right in front focusing in on his ideas. We would have to ask again and again for him to move/turn off his light/be quiet/etc. To say we wished we would NEVER see him again was putting it mildly.
At the same time, we worked with another video company that was a dream. We would connect on every wedding we worked on together before the event itself and plan out how to work efficently. They offered to stage things to help us – and of course vice versa. We knew how each other worked and what was expected. So we provided professionalism at 110 percent level for any client that booked us both.
Again, this is a perfect example of collaboration. When a client booked with us, we could ask what services they still were looking for. If they mentioned video, we could talk about this latter video company and describe in detail their professionalism. We could have them super excited about working with them long before they ever picked up the phone and made the call. And of course they reciprocated when they could.
Can It Be Used In Different Niches?
“I get how it works for weddings. But how about different niches of photography in which dates don’t matter – like senior photograph”. And that’s true. When it comes to a high school senior, you don’t have to complete the project on a set date; you can book several a day, seven days of the week. So how would collaboration work in this case?
Let’s talk about a trend I’m seeing in high school senior photography. If you’ve had a high school student in your life over the past few years, you’ve probably had the opportunity to look through their yearbooks. Frankly, they suck.
Twenty years ago, high school yearbooks were regulated. You had to visit a pre-selected senior portrait photographer to supply the yearbook with an image. They understood the requirements, the sizing, the look and the feel. They worked directly with the high schools to provide the right photograph with the right dimensions. And every high school senior had a decent image, well lit, proper measurements, and a quality look to them.
Fast forward to today, and they accept just about anything. I’ve seen senior portraits so poorly lit, I can’t even see the facial features. I’ve seen full face images where even portions of the head and chin were cut off because it’s such a severe close-up. I’ve seen images so far back, even the knees are included. I’ve seen blurry, completely out of focus images. I really have seen it all. And unfortunately in 20, 30 and 40 years from now, the seniors of today will go through their yearbooks at their reunions and wonder exactly what we were thinking during this generation.
But its changing. Good photographers started understanding what was happening, and started working together to educate high schools about the importance of quality images. And it’s working. In our area, some high schools are reverting back to senior requirements, where only a select few photographers will be allowed to submit images for the senior section. These photographers have to prove their professionalism, and be approved before they are allowed to submit.
When a group of photographers put their heads together and collaborate on a project, magic can happen. They can come together and focus in on a problem, and fix the problem by working together and changing the way things are done.